New Reality Show To Feature Thousand-Pound Humanoid Robots Punching the Daylights out of Each Other

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Nov. 21 2012 1:48 PM

New Reality Show To Feature Thousand-Pound Humanoid Robots Punching the Daylights out of Each Other

Host Chris Jericho appears confident that the eight-foot-tall contestants on Robot Combat League aren't going to suddenly rise up against him.

Photo by Tommy Garcia / SyFy

Remember BattleBots? That show where the one metal robot that looked like a trash compactor on wheels would repeatedly bump into the other metal robot that looked like a sharp-edged saucer on wheels? Forget that. Entertainment Weekly reports that SyFy is preparing a new robot fighting show featuring eight-foot-tall humanoid robots that actually stand on two legs (sort of) and box. It’s called Robot Combat League, and it promises to be interesting, for at least the first episode. Beyond that, we’ll see.

There’s no doubt robotics technology has come a long way in the 10 years since Comedy Central aired the last new episode of BattleBots (or its BBC forebear, Robot Wars). We now have robots that fight fires, robots that kill people, robots that you control with your mind, and robots that dance to “Gangnam Style.” All of which represent a big step up in class from BattleBots’ “evil Roombas,” as EW's James Hibberd memorably describes them.


Yet for all those advances, we’re still a ways away from having robots that can float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. Even the most advanced bipedal robots remain disappointingly ungainly compared to humans. So it’s no surprise that Robot Combat League’s 1,000-pound combatants will apparently be neither autonomous nor fully bipedal. As in the recent movie Real Steel, the show’s mechanical boxers will be remote-controlled by humans. Unlike in the movie, they will have to rely on a “stabilizing bar” to get around the ring without falling over. (Not that watching robots fall over can't be tremendously entertaining in its own way.)

That aside, EW reports that the show “delivers what’s promised — robots pounding on each other.” SyFy president Mark Stern tells the magazine that robot designer Mark Setrakian deserves credit for making the concept a reality:

“Up until we actually saw them in the ring fighting, we didn’t think it would work,” Stern says. “Setrakian created a robotics system that can mimic a human’s actions and movements. We’ve had robots decapitated, we’ve had robots cut in half. It was truly spectacular.”

The show is scheduled to debut on Feb. 26. Former pro wrestler Chris Jericho will host.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.



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